Iron Man

Ten years ago, Stan Lee was frustrated about the inability to get impressive versions of Marvel Comics super heroes to the movie screen.

“It seemed as if so many of them were tied up with contracts here and copyrights there,” Lee said during a recent phone interview.

Obviously, all the obstacles were eventually worked out, because Lee has seen many of his co-creations become successful films since the 21st century began. None have been better than “Iron Man” (Paramount, 2008, $39.99), which tops the list of Blu-ray releases this week.

Except, perhaps, for the first Spider-Man film, “Iron Man” is arguably the best Marvel super hero movie to date. Its special effects are first rate, its story unfolds crisply and intelligently and its impressive cast is in top form.

Robert Downey Jr. plays multi-millionaire Tony Stark, head of Stark Industries, which manufactures the latest and most advanced products in weapons. Stark, however, is more interested in the party scene and is content to let his second-in-command Obadiah Stane (Jeff Bridges) oversee the day-to-day details.

Assistant Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Partlow) tries to make sure the Stark keeps his social obligations and business appointments. One such appointment involves flying to the Middle East and demonstrating a new weapon to the U.S. Military. His friend, Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Terrence Howard), accompanies Stark on the journey.

Once in Afghanistan, Stark’s group is ambushed by terrorists who take the playboy hostage. It is a life-changing experience for Stark to discover the weapons his company makes are being used against the U.S. and are the cause of so much death and destruction in the Middle East. Although seriously injured, Stark secretly uses his technical know-how to tranform himself into an Iron Man, much to the astonishment of his captors.

What follows is a memorable action-adventure tale with a soul that is made even better by the Blu-ray edition’s vivid images and stirring soundtrack. Lee is delighted with the results.

“I thought Robert Downey Jr. did a terrific job,” Lee said. The two-disc set includes numerous behind-the-scene extras; one of the most enjoyable focuses on the comic-book origin of Iron Man. Lee said Howard Hughes was his inspiration for Stark. He also notes that Iron Man spawned “more letters from girls than any other comic book we did.”

Lee, born in New York City in 1922, joined what was then known as Timely Comics in 1941. He served in the Army during World War II, then returned to the comic-book world. During the next 15 years, he wrote hundreds of comic book stories including Westerns, horror, crime and romance.

In the early 1960s, Lee and his cohorts at Marvel pumped new life into the comic-book industry with their many varied superhero creations. Among them were The Fantastic Four and, of course, Iron Man.

Lee, who has formed his own company, POW Productions, no longer is involved with producing Marvel comic books but maintains a relationship with the people there.

“I still help them out when they ask me to do promotions and movie projects such as this one,” Lee said. He also admitted that he gets a lump in his throat and tears of joy in his eyes from seeing one his co-creations on the movie screen.

You have to figure he must have gotten a big lump when he saw how great Iron Man turned out.

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